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IGDA: "Too many studios grow without investing in a positive work culture"

Renee Gittins talks about a year of pandemic changes, publisher scandals, and the group's call for devs to limit their use of blockchain

While many of the largest companies in the games industry have prospered enormously during the pandemic, the impact on developers themselves has been less uniformly positive.

Last month, the IGDA released results of COVID-related questions from its 2021 Developer Satisfaction Survey, showing among other things that large numbers of developers found their work-life balance particularly impacted by the pandemic, for better or worse.

Speaking with about the results, IGDA executive director Renee Gittins said a close examination of the answers showed the complications of the pandemic were not spread evenly throughout the industry.

"Almost half of developers experienced a project delay due to COVID-19, but women were more likely to report a development pipeline impact than men"

"One of the things that really stood out to me is almost half of developers experienced a project delay due to COVID-19, but women were more likely to report a development pipeline impact than men," Gittins said.

She added that women were more likely than men or transgender or non-binary developers to cite those problems, saying that discussions and decisions were typically not happening as smoothly as they did prior to the pandemic.

While the 79% of women reporting "a little" or "a lot" of disruption to the pipeline wasn't too much larger than the numbers put up by men (74%) or transgender/non-binary devs (78%), the 33% of women reporting "a lot" of disruption was considerably larger than the rate for men (20%) or transgender/non-binary developers (21%).

When asked what was behind those numbers, Gittins offers two potential explanations.

"One, it could be that women are more sensitive to -- or willing to admit -- communication issues," Gittins says. "Or that with women often being in more of the creative jobs like designing, art, etc., those can be more difficult to communicate in a remote work environment."

Another key result Gittins took away from the survey was the greater impact reported by freelancers as opposed to those employed full-time in AAA development. While 44% of AAA developers said their ability to land new and future work was hurt by the pandemic, that number jumped to 72% for freelancers and 52% for self-employed developers.

"I think the difference here is while we have more and more people who are working remotely as employees, those who are not already established as employees were often the first to be cut from teams to help save funds during potential issues with funding," Gittins says.

She notes that the IGDA has tried to provide developers with support throughout the pandemic in a number of ways. Within weeks of the pandemic being declared, the IGDA announced the Game Development Crisis Conference and Webinar Series with the help of Take This.

Later in the year it launched the eJam program that teamed more than 300 student developers with 50 professional game developer mentors for a virtual game jam to help offset some of the learning and networking opportunities lost by studios cancelling their internship programs last year.

Going beyond pandemic issues, the IGDA also last year launched its Game Industry Standards project, which provided guidance on four key issues facing the industry -- event diversity, crunch, ethics, and proper credit for completed work -- and invited developers to make formal reports against companies that weren't living up to those standards.

While Gittins says she's received feedback that studios are finding the guidelines helpful, the company reports -- part of a plan "to apply pressure to encourage companies to really consider them" -- have not been widely used, even though the initiative launched just in advance of a wave of abuse allegations around the industry.

"We actually only received two reports," Gittins says, "and both of those were game crediting standard reports. We did not receive any other reports."

Gittins says the IGDA has also been made aware of some event diversity issues but those did not result in formal reports. As for the lack of reports on abuse and harassment at a time when the industry's problems with those topics have been front and center, Gittins acknowledges the IGDA might not be the best place to take those complaints.

"The number of career switches developers go through has decreased over time"

"While our Game Industry Standards are intended to assist with uplifting the industry themselves, we don't really have an explicit set for doing research on abuse allegations," she says. "We provide resources to support and we have our own harassment allegation investigation process, but these game industry standards are more to hold companies accountable and show them the proper way to handle the health and wellness of their workers.

"While abuse and harassment, particularly chronic issues of that, does violate our code of ethics, I think most of those investigations need to be handled by internal resources where they're able to get more information than we have access to. Unfortunately, we are not set up to be doing in-depth investigations about specific harassment allegations that are not occurring within our community itself."

Grim as that subject has been in the industry in recent years, Gittins says there are some key indicators that gaming is actually becoming a better place for people to work and build a career, specifically numbers around retention, both on the company level and for gaming overall.

"The number of career switches developers go through has decreased over time," Gittins notes. "Previously it was 2.2 employers every five years, which is quite rapid. You're switching jobs about every two years under those numbers there."

But in the 2019 Developer Satisfaction Survey, the IGDA found that developers' expectations for how long they'll stay with their current company have gotten longer, the average age of game developers is increasing, and the number of people in the industry starting families have grown.

"Those are really good signs that the games industry overall is headed in the right direction, where it is more supportive of the people within it, where they feel they can be stable enough to start their families and maintain their career within the industry itself," Gittins says.

"We've seen far too many studios become successful and grow rapidly without investing in creating a positive work culture"

As for how to improve retention further, Gittins says there are two big stumbling blocks to address. The first is crunch, which she believes "has become a lot better," even if there's still more work to be done. The other big problem in her eyes is cultural development.

"We've seen far too many studios become successful and grow rapidly without investing in creating a positive work culture," Gittins says. "We feel the best thing the industry can do right now is be more proactive about development of its culture, of its HR policies, to ensure everyone within their company feels supported to ensure that everyone within their company feels supported and has the proper channels to be candid about any issues they're facing so we're not seeing as many issues of harassment or abuse within the industry itself."

To that end, Gittins notes the IGDA's recently released a white paper on the topic of creating and sustaining a positive work culture.

Finally, we ask about the IGDA's recent call for developers to stop using proof-of-work blockchain technology for NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and restrict other uses out of concerns about the technology's energy consumption.

"The IGDA issues calls to action when we recognize issues within our industry that need to be addressed to ensure the best for our developers, players, and our world. Just as we made a call for studios to approach loot boxes in an ethical manner in 2018," Gittins says. "We similarly decided to pursue this recent call to action to protect our planet and those who player our games. We have seen issues with the current approach of some blockchain technology within the game industry. We have taken a stance to ensure that developers are aware of the potential issues with unnecessary or exploitative use of crypto-technology."

As for pushback the group received from its more than 10,000 members, Gittins says, "The IGDA has seen overall support from our membership from taking this stance, though some of our members believe that use of any NTFs or blockchain technology should be discouraged."

( has said we will severely limit any coverage of blockchain companies and efforts over concerns about the negative impacts of the technology as it is currently and most commonly used.)

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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